Debrief After A Literary Pilgrimage

How do I start a gratitude piece for all the bountiful harvest that I have partaken in? That is the question that has been pushing me closer and closer to debriefing from a truly magnificent and perfect-in-every-form-ten-week-whirlwind of an American rendezvous. Well, as the trip fully and without any compromise demonstrated to me, perhaps I should start by thanking myself for the sheer tenacity, determination, courage, faith, and pure passion that has driven me to be still and hear, and be fully awake to see the signs as they presented themselves to me; to have trusted my perception instead of doubt it; to have shunned any inkling of doubt or fear; and to have honoured my own voice that has consequentially led me to my own truth.

I feel validated in my beliefs, gratified by my journey, closer to my relentless vision, and inspired to be extraordinary. I have seen in clear daylight the intensity of my own power; the unparalleled spark of possibility lying, dormant, seeking engagement with those driven by pure intentions to be creators in their own worlds; the spontaneous combustion between possibility and determination, initiative and faith, knowledge of self and passion; and the sheer magic that can be woven and witnessed in one whose higher self is in direct alignment with self. I am now possessed by a thousand thundering voices that speak with me, and through me. Where I once had shoulders I now have wings…

I am now more certain that ever that we are one with all living entities; the earth and its magnificent solar systems (this is no joke; the full moons and mercury in retrograde had me in full grips, begging for ‘normality’), the animals, plants, and human beings all form a cosmic and holistic part of who we are. I only exist because of all those living things. And there is no living without the dead—the persistent balance and harmony of life—so I have tasted the sweetest connections of them all; being awake in more worlds than this physical one; hearing, seeing, and feeling the intensity of the moment; but most importantly, trusting the moment and taking notes that I consequently use as a blueprint of my vision and dreams. Let no one succeed in convincing you your physical body is all you are!

I have grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and cosmically on the literary pilgrimage I took from Amsterdam to New York, to Washington DC, to Chicago, to San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley, to Los Angeles; following and being followed by the footstep of a sage whose guiding hand, embrace, and mentorship—felt, heard and seen without his physicality—has led me to treasures of my own soul, of the larger cosmic world of our people, of the South African literary landscape, and of the broader black diaspora. The magnitude of the alchemy on this trip is to be fully experienced in the forthcoming months of writing this dissertation, this book, and producing this documentary. I have grown creatively too. I am decidedly embroiled in the cosmic world of the arts, where being a writer has so seamlessly and without any fear or favour led me to being a filmmaker: an art form that I have enormous respect for.

I trust myself more than ever. I am not the chosen one, but I chose myself to be the one for this task. Perhaps I should rephrase and say InI (I and eye—third eye perception and reception. I’ve explained this in detail here https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/ini-self-n-divine-self/ ) chose myself; perceived of self as capable, and received the ordained calling as my own. As the wisdom of the elders does state clearly, we exist in duality, like any product of nature and life—the yin and the yan, the body and the life force, the physical and the metaphysical—must be in unison. My life force and metaphysical self, the other ‘I’ in InI, are now lounging languidly with my physical self, at one, in perfect harmony, pregnant with larger-than-my-physical-body possibilities. My voice is stronger than ten weeks ago, and my resolve is only perfectly demonstrated by the image of being possessed by a thousand thundering voices. I move because I am moved…

What follows is a continuation of a photo essay that started here

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/the-golden-years/

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I travelled to Washington DC to interview poet, legendary jazz critic and literary historian A.B. Spellman, who was warm and happy to walk down memory lane with me

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Karen Spellman was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which Keorapetse Kgositsile joined seamlessly when he arrived in the States

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I went to meet my mentor, Professor James Miller, at the George Washington University. He was the first person who ever introduced the term ‘Black Atlantic’ to me at Wits in my Honours year, and I have been dreaming about conducting research in this field since he ran a fascinating course mapping the similarities in black South African and black American cultures in the 20th century

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Fall/Autumn is pumpkin season and America has quite a family of them I tell you. All shapes, colours, textures, sizes, and flavours…

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…but what do you do with so much pumpkins? Well, they have all kinds of pumpkin yumminess like pumpkin chai tea/coffee, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, etc. Pumpkin chai tea with hot milk really moved me to tears

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Of course while I was in town I thought I’d pop in and have tea with my girl Mitchelle, but the security guards had something else on their minds. They’ve since been fired 🙂

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Maybe something major was happening at Mitchelle’s house! I mean snipers on top of her house?? Really??

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The area between Capitol Hill and Lincoln Memorial gave way to an area of feeling deep in my heart. I was filled with all kinds of conflicting emotions from disgust to triumph

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I really really love how artists engage with the city, especially at the Washington Square in New York. It is a beautiful square with all kinds of artists, and they are well-respected if the tipping is anything to go by

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The student becomes the teacher. The interviewee becomes the interviewer

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On my last night in NYC I managed to score tickets to a Talib Kweli performance. What an amazing experience to hear him, feel him, and be entertained by him in his native New York…

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Kweli is a lyricist extraordinaire, and I was pleased that the sound at the legendary Blue Notes did justice to his flow

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I have been to quite a lot of jazz performances and festivals, but never have I seen a trumpeter display such barbaric devotion to his instrument – breaking all the rules

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I arrived in Chicago on the 20th September, and the next day I prepped to dance away at this dream line up. The special guest was Kanye West, and I have to admit that I absolutely enjoyed his performance despite my better judgement of the man

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In Chicago I managed to link up with my brother Ignatius from Polokwane. It was great to speak Sepedi in Chicago and crack ourselves over the mundane and magical

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Sterling Plumpp – the man who made almost everything worthwhile. He led me in the right direction and guided me gently into the very dense jungle that is the political and cultural life of Keorapetse Kgositsile. I am forever indebted to him

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During this interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile’s daughter, Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile, we were visited by fireflies, hummingbirds, and butterflies. It was beyond magical. In that hot Oakland weather I was suffering (with pleasure) from chills

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The way I loved the bay area – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley – was truly special. It will forever remain my dream destination and crush address

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Don’t even ask! Okay, I’ll tell you. I went into a shop, looked around, and next thing I know there was an impromptu photoshoot and wine #hides

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The beauty of the bay area. It reminded me of Cape Town with all its beautiful hills and mountains, winelands, botanical gardens, and laid back culture

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I missed this documentary to celebrate 20 years of Illmatic the album, and as I was minding my own business buying books I came across this poster and immediately heeded the calling

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Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile

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We caught Fourplay at the legendary Yoshi’s Jazz Bar in Oakland; one of the most reputable jazz bars in the world. The owner, Yoshi, is a Japanese beauty of soul and spirit whom I’ve been fortunate enough to spend an intense afternoon with.

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The saxophonist and trombonist are from Oakland School of Arts, a public school where I have had the pleasure of teaching a literature lesson on Kgositsile. 51 Oakland, an NGO ran by Jason Hoffman and Yoshi, helps with putting arts and music back in public schools. These are the results of their work. These public school learners are playing with a legendary Latino band

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I felt the power of this NGO’s work. This youngster from a public school displayed so much skill on the trombone, and all the applause certainly gave him positive self esteem and motivation

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My lens caught this wonderful child

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Universe please conspire!! I need to live here, even if it is for a two year fellowship, or even better, getting a post at the Berkeley campus of the University of California…

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This is the NGO in discussion, 51 Oakland, and one of the co-founders Jason Hoffman. I met Jason through Ipeleng, and he was jsut so generous and kind enough to host me at his house during my stay in the bay area. There was something magical in our interaction, which has led me to my own treasures

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I helped out at the event where the students were playing; selling T-shirts and garnering support for the organisation. This has moved me to decidedly be more involved in the caring for others and making a difference in the less fortunate’s lives. A challenge I take on keenly

Staying True to My Heart

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Greetings from Amsterdam on this fantastic sunny day. I’m in a fabulous mood. First I must apologise for being so quiet over the last week. I have been brewing something exciting for the past three months, and last week it reached its execution period, where I had to wait until this morning to find out if the plan is green-lighted. So without wasting any time, here it goes: I’m going to be living in the United States for three months from the 1st of August!! These are most fulfilling and exciting news to me and my work. It has been a trying time for me emotionally, so a quest into the unknown is the exact literal, literary and symbolic journey I need.

I can confidently and safely tell you now that my PhD research on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile has been approved by my department of literature at the University of Cape Town to take the form of a literary biography. For my own creative exploration and indulgence, I am also shooting a documentary that will accompany the final book project. He lived in New York for 15 years between 1960 and 1975, and I am going to live in New York for 2 months from the 1st August to chart his literary journey, interview his contemporaries—I’m looking for one particular Pharoah Sanders; universe please align—and talk to members of his family and friends in the 3rd month.

New York SubwayThis work is at the very centre of my heart, and anchors me day and night when all seems to be destabilised. Planning for this trip has been a most sacred journey as everything I have sought has been met with a resounding YES! everyone I have spoken to has been so open-minded as to see the value of this project, and even though I have never been to the U.S., I have seen New York, Chicago, San Francisco—places I will visit over the 3 months there—with my third eye. The kindness and generosity of my American interlocutors has left me feeling at ease about entering this new phase of my research and life journey.

I believe in more work and less talk, I believe in letting my work speak for itself, and I believe that plans for great work are like an intricate process of birth. I will only speak about the birth once the baby is strong, stealthy, and able to take their position in the world. So for now I’m content to share these plans with you. There are very exciting things and people I’m meeting with, but I would not want to talk about them before I have in fact met with them and engaged with their wonderful minds. Work first, then enjoyment of its fruits later. The power of the mind will now function to create something out of nothing, and this will find its time to be shared here.

As you might or might not know, whilst interviewing Kgositsile and his contemporaries—I’ve thus far interviewed Mongane Serote, Lefifi Tladi, Muxe Nkondo, Tsitsi Jaji, Stephane Roboolin—I have been shooting a documentary. This has been a true blessing in my life, and I’d like to thank my best friend Mafadi Mpuru who has been so generous as to donate a full professional television crew for these purposes. I will continue with the work of shooting a documentary in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, and once again this is made possible by the generous spirit of a friend who owns an Amsterdam production rental company.

So those are my news. New York here I come in 15 days. I received my visa this morning, for a whopping 10 years!! The Americans are generous for such a paranoid country. Well good for me because this will be my first time there, but certainly not my last. This is my life work, and I will continue to invest my time here in (re)writing our beautiful literary history. If I don’t thank my husband for his gentleness and generosity then I will be doing a great injustice unto self first. Reinier has been, and continues to be a rock. All his connections are making this come true, and without him I would be found wanting. My family’s support has let me know: a pride of lions without a leader can be defeated by a limping buffalo (directly translated from Sepedi proverb).

I will say, last but not least, when you do what you love a world of possibilities opens up and the essential things of your heart’s desire become attainable. If your dreams do not scare you it means you have not fully explored your true potential and thrust. Nothing of value can come out of comfort; we must leave, as we have left our parents’ house, that which makes our growth graph stagnant, and pursue that which makes our hearts race, guided by faith, courage, hope, and passion. There is no greater fulfilment than to create something from nothing, to live with a clear vision that propels you forward in your everyday life. Productivity equals growth, and vision equals purpose. Without productivity, vision, and purpose, our growth is stifled…

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Our very first meeting in 2012. I was not nervous. But I spoke a lot, which probably means I was nervous 🙂

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Ntate Lefifi Tladi has been most inspiring to engage with. He was part of Medu Arts Ensemble in the 1980s in Botswana, together with Keorapetse Kgositsile, Thami Mnyele, and Dumile Feni. His house is a living and breathing music, literary, and visual arts library. He is a writer, musician, visual artist (he made a Sistine chapel-like ceiling in his house), and performer.

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Prof. Muxe Nkondo lifted the veil off this whole research. He is a literary scholar par excellence, and helped me reveal the core intentions of this study. I am forever indebted to him.

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Ntate Mongane Serote is a living literary legend. He is also the CEO of both Jo’burg theatre and Freedom Park. He was Keorapetse Kgositsile’s student of Creative Writing in the U.S. in the early 1970s, and they lived together like gypsies, travelling to jazz concerts all over the country (U.S.)

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This man is full of humility and brilliance. Dynamites do indeed come in small packages…

Wanderlust…

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I fancy myself a world traveller, even though my list of countries visited is not as impressive as my husband’s. We have travelled quite a bit together, although we always have to steal time out of our busy schedules, and hence not doing it as much as we would love to. It doesn’t help either that we have two homes on two hemisphere, which makes travelling for other purposes sans to move homes quite impossible. It’s May now, and we have contagious wanderlust. Our tickets are bought to Europe, and we are preparing to migrate north.

According to this Trip Advisor travel website, these are the top 25 cities one should visit in one’s lifetime. Here’s the list from 25:

  • San Francisco, U.S.A
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Chicago, U.S.A
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Florence, Italy
  • New York City, U.S.A
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Shanghai, China
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Paris, France
  • Marrakech, Morocco
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Beijing, China
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Rome, Italy
  • Istanbul, Turkey

    My Cape Town

    My Cape Town

Yesterday I found out that the university where I am teaching and doing my PhD is ranked Number 1 in Africa; and now I also find out that I am living in one of the top 25 cities in the world: Cape Town. There are many jewels of nature here, and the wonderful people of and from Cape Town make this city what it is. I am privileged to be living here, in the cultural hub of Africa. I am surprised Amsterdam did not make it on this list because it is also an amazing progressive European city with a vibrant art scene, and much more of a relaxed city (with a healthy economy) out of the other EU cities.

Out of these 25 cities, I am proud to find out I have been to 12, and have my tickets booked for August to 2 more of those cities. I’ve been fortunate enough to choose travel over any material possessions from very early on. My first time out of the country was on a trip to Addis Ababa. I had won the trip; it was my first time on a plane, and I was 18. Yes, I did not grow up travelling out of the country like most of the people I’ve met. I come from a humble home where we enjoyed picnics on the countryside under the Draconian apartheid laws. I think that is where the wanderlust itch started.

So out of the 25 cities listed here, I have been to Lisbon (Portugal), Bangkok (Thailand), I live in Cape Town, Barcelona (Spain), Florence (Italy), Berlin (Germany), Paris (France), Marrakech (Morocco), Prague (Czech Republic), London (UK), Rome (Italy), and Istanbul (Turkey). As I was reading through these cities, wonderful memories started flooding…

My husband proposed in Lisbon, Portugal, after a great week in which, unbeknownst to me, there was a ring burning in his pocket. We are both foodies, so we had a list of wonderful restaurants of Lisbon, and our trip was entirely food-inspired. We even visited a restaurant owned by my favourite actor, John Malkovich. I also have the same memories of Barcelona, still one of my favourite cities I’ve been to. I’ve been there twice: the first time was a food trip with my husband, before we were married; and the second time I went to a world festival called Sonar, with three wonderful friends.

I went to Bangkok with my brother, Romeo, and younger sister, Jessica. I was very young (19), and we had just visited Hong Kong before we went to Bangkok. My regret is that I was not a foodie back then, so I didn’t get thoroughly immersed in the food culture; instead we were finding ourselves at a loss when it came to meal times. Reinier and I have wild dreams of touring Asia on a food pilgrimage, where we will try everything from the duck beaks, to pig’s kidneys. We have been to the surprisingly number one city, Istanbul, together on a, you guessed right, food trip, and it really is a unique city that merges the East and the West (it’s thought to be in both Europe and Middle East).

I travelled Europe with my siblings in 2008, and together we went to London, Rome, Florence, Paris, and other cities like le-train-bleu-andrew-fareMonaco, Cannes, Vienna, Munich, Antwerp, etc. We spent 2009 New Year’s in Prague at a public square where a Madonna impersonator was performing 🙂 A city that struck me in its opulence was Paris. I have been there twice, and one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Le Train Bleu, is housed there. It’s like eating in the Sistine chapel (see image on the right).

And last, but definitely not least, Berlin. I love love love that city. Unlike Paris, young people live in the city of Berlin; and unlike Amsterdam, the city space is owned by its residents, not tourists. Just like my other favourite Barcelona, Berlin is very affordable and eating and drinking out is a culture for everyone. It is not an anomaly to go to a nightclub (with the best DJs in the world) on Friday and buy a ticket for three nights. The party doesn’t stop. The DJs play all hours of the night and day till Monday morning! That’s my kinda city… Read here about my Berlin trip.

All I have to say about Marrakech is that I am going again. And again, and again. That city is wealthy, and is an inspiring African city where everybody is involved in production. In South Africa we only consume and not produce, hence the high levels of debt. Marrakech is rich with natural resources, so they make everything from leather products, jewellery, oils, textile, spices, and many other things (like hashish—I heard 🙂 It should be number one on that list, according to me. Read here about our Morocco pilgrimage. There’s also Part Two.

I’m excited that my ticket to New York is booked for August, and I will spend three months there, during which time I will visit Washington DC and San Francisco. It is all for work, but my work is so very exciting. I will continue with research for my beautifully unfolding project, by interviewing Keorapetse Kgositsile’s children, one of which is called Thebe, whom to my surprise I found out from a friend that he is a member of Odd Future called Earl Sweatshirt. So the adventure continues…

Please share with me where you have been dear reader/traveller.

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